The Duke of Mantua is suave, handsome, and a great success with the ladies, yet he has a complaint. And he gets to voice it in one of the highlight arias in the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera’s production of Verdi’s “Rigoletto” on Saturday evening.
Tenor Rafael Moras sings the Duke’s hit aria, “La donna è mobile.” In English words, “Women are fickle.” The irony in the Duke’s words is that he is the epitome of faithlessness, a libertine from whom none of the young women of Mantua is safe.
The Duke’s behavior is of particular concern to Rigoletto, the Duke’s court jester, portrayed by baritone Joshua Jeremiah. The jester is a figure of sport, a misshapen hunchback who is at pains to conceal and protect his beautiful young daughter, Gilda, played by soprano Monica Dewey in her Sacramento debut.
This is opera, so of course the inevitable occurs. Gilda encounters the Duke while he is pretending to be a student, falling in love with the mysterious young man. Despite the Duke’s misogynistic opinion of the female sex, Gilda is the opposite of fickle and her devotion to her amour is total — even when his identity is revealed and her father urges her to flee.
“Gilda is impressionable and young,” said Dewey. “For the first time in her life, she feels something. She is conflicted with so many emotions — guilt, love, betrayal, joy, and anger. Gilda realizes that her lover has betrayed her. She is heartbroken and angry, but her vocal line in the famous quartet is lyrical, sweeping, and luscious. It’s Verdi’s way of showing her feeling opposite emotions at the same time.”
In portraying Rigoletto, whose miscalculations drive the tragedy, Jeremiah finds the character’s misjudgments tragic but understandable. “His overprotective nature certainly doesn’t help Gilda to be prepared for the world,” said Jeremiah, “but I think there is always an incredibly strong desire to protect one’s children; especially when they are your only remaining family. I find it difficult to judge him too harshly. He was honestly trying to do the best he could to keep her safe by hiding some ugly truths from her, but it obviously doesn’t go his way.”
The jester’s physical deformity is alluded to in the libretto, but Jeremiah thinks that being a hunchback is not crucial to Rigoletto’s twisted personality.
“The anguish of his isolation and the way he is treated by the rest of the cast can pretty effectively portray his status as an undesirable,” Jeremiah said. “It can speak to the important issue of how we treat the most vulnerable members of our society, and it immediately makes a point of contrast to the way that those issues were dealt with in our past.”
Rigoletto rashly hires an assassin to kill the Duke, but the assassin’s sister is smitten with the nobleman and tries to intervene. Mezzo-soprano Julie Miller returns to the capital city to play the pivotal role of the sister, Maddalena, whose efforts to divert her brother have tragic consequences. Miller launched her music career with studies at Sacramento State, where she worked with Donald Kendrick, Robin Fisher and Ian Swensen.
“Singers often joke that the mezzo-soprano repertoire consists of boys, maids, witches, and whores,” said Miller. “Maddalena, a whore, helps perpetuate the stereotype. However, she brings something special to the table. She isn’t afraid to speak up and use what limited power she has to get what she wants in her male-dominated society. I think the audience will understand Maddalena’s love for the Duke is the driving force in saving the Duke from death.”
The orchestra and ensemble will be under the direction of Maestro Michael Christie, who said he is pleased to be returning for yet another engagement with the SPO and quickly assented to the organization’s choice of “Rigoletto” for this season’s opera.
“‘Rigoletto’ represents a wonderful turning point for Verdi’s output and opera going forward,” Christie said. Before Verdi, it was common to use arias to convey emotion and speech-like recitatives to express plot points. “Verdi blends those forms together and creates a more urgent sense of drama,” said Christie.
“Conducting Verdi is as much about pacing the drama — and having the courage to allow it to span the range from simmer to boiling-over — as it does about the beauty of the music itself,” said Christie.
The character of Gilda evokes much of the emotion that bubbles up in the score. “This is her coming-of-age story and, ultimately, her downfall,” said Dewey of her role. “She is the tragic hero of the story because she would rather die for her lover than live a life locked away.”
When Rigoletto realizes this truth about his daughter, it is too late.
If You Go
Where: The Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera
Info: www.sacphilopera.org, 916-594-7333
Cost: $23 to $57